Friday, December 31, 1999

my voyage into the bizarre

Normally, I love, love, love working for KMA. The students are often great; my supervisor (who has, unfortunately, left the company as of late November to pursue other things) has been organized, open-minded, and not pushy at all; the pay, at W70,000 per hour, is fantastic; and the location—spiffy, ultra-urban Yeouido—can't be beat. In a single day at KMA, I can earn as much as I'd earn working an entire week at Dongguk. I've often secretly wished I could just work full-time at KMA. At W70,000 an hour, three eight-hour days would net me W1,680,000 a week. Multiply that by four weeks, and that's a gross of W6,720,000 a month. In dollar terms, that would be a net income of about $72,000 a year. I'd love to be raking in that much money while working only three days a week. Alas, KMA doesn't work that way: they don't hire full-time instructors. Instead, instructors are plucked from among people who already have contracts elsewhere. And unfortunately, because I'm available only on Saturdays, I don't get that many KMA gigs. (Next year, I'm scheduled for nine, but I suspect there'll be several cancellations.) That said, I'm usually happy every time I head out to Yeouido.

This past December 6, however, turned out to be a weird KMA day. I normally have at least one female student who brightens the ambiance significantly, but on the 6th, it was nothing but men: a sausage party. One guy was in his late twenties—an obvious junior in his company. Another guy was a beefier, married, smiling thirty-something. The last gentleman, and the cause of all the weirdness, was probably in his sixties. He arrived extremely late, wearing a midnight overcoat that immediately made me think of Dracula. He even had it buttoned at the top and open the rest of the way down, heightening the vampiric effect. His manner of approaching our table looked more like floating than walking; the aura of creepiness was palpable. He settled silently into an empty chair.

"I'm sorry for being late," he intoned softly, like an educated member of the undead.

As the lesson progressed, Dracula kept the rest of us behind. His movements were always slow and deliberate, and because of him, I had to cut certain parts of the seven-hour program in order not to get too far off schedule. At one point, I asked Dracula whether he had finished writing his draft paragraph (this was a course in persuasive writing); his reply was a grimace. No words—just a grimace. Asking Dracula any questions required a great deal of patience: I'm normally the type who likes to charge forward on the assumption that everyone gets the basics, but this gentleman held a very high position in the Bank of Korea, and I could see that he was used to dealing with the world on his own terms, at his own pace. There would be no rushing him. So whenever I asked him a question, I learned to prepare for a thirty-second delay before Dracula would verbalize anything. I'll say this for him: of the three guys there that day, Dracula's spoken and written English was by far the best. Being my usual jokey self, I did my best to get him to smile; on rare occasions, I succeeded.

When the seven hours were over and the students had filled out the evaluation forms, shaken my hand, and left, I did something I normally refrain from doing: I peeked at the evals. Because there were only three students, I knew exactly who had filled out which form. My average was a 9 out of 10: the friendly-seeming thirty-something guy had dicked me over by giving me an 8; the junior guy had given me a 9, and—surprise, surprise—the vampire had given me a 10, along with high praise for my "passionate" teaching style.

It was a bizarre day, not least because I had fully expected Dracula to be the most perturbed by my dynamism, which was the exact opposite of his slow, deliberate, undead demeanor. Not an optimal KMA experience this time around, but not terrible, either. Just weird.


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